THE BLOG

Is It Time to Accept Being Unhappy at Work?

15/07/2014 11:26 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

The revision of guidance surrounding flexible working hours for UK employees, unveiled at the beginning of July, has put the spotlight on work/life balance once again. While I have written quite recently about the benefits of taking a more varied approach to the working day - ranging from office hours reflecting international trade to part-time positions enabling greater scope for collaborative working, I think it is time we all took a deep breath and recognised that employers might say 'no' - to flexible working and indeed to any number of proposals made by their staff. And while I'd encourage employers to look seriously at all requests, I suggest in many of those cases we must take an even bigger breath and be ok with it.

A disgruntled workforce is an unproductive one, I hear you cry. A job should not cost you your mental health. I'd agree. But I want to issue a warning: One of the worst things you can do in your career and in your life more generally, is to keep complaining about your working situation.

As a recent TUC report showed that young people aged between 16 and 24 years old with low level qualifications are finding it more difficult to get a job than 25 years ago (the employment rate for the demographic is estimated at just 63 per cent), we must start to be more grateful for the positions we are in.

While we debate the steps which employers can take to safeguard our happiness and success, we should remind ourselves that part of the stress and disappointment we feel on a daily basis is self-inflicted. The age of social media has enabled quick comparisons with the glorified lives of others, leaving those who were formerly happy in their careers to wonder why they are not in possession of bigger job titles or wage packets.

A comparison is easy to make in this area of our lives because the measures (the figure on a bank statement, words such as 'senior' or 'executive' on a signature) are more objective. While we accept that ups-and-downs are part of a relationship, that we may not have a supermodel body or be able to master whatever extra-curricular talent we envy, we remain overtly critical of our employment experiences and fail to see as much good in our day-to-day activities.

A broad range of psychological research (including Yerkes and Dodson's work on Optimal Anxiety) has shown that at least moderate discomfort in the workplace can improve our level of achievement - we just need to recognise it. Not convinced? The theory goes that in a situation in which we feel relaxed and unchallenged we typically revert to using minimum levels of effort and skill which impact negatively upon the outcome. When pushed, we're likely to work more efficiently and feel rewarded.

Next time you're complaining alongside colleagues on a Friday night about your job, take a step back. Acknowledge the presence of people you work with who have become friends, the fact that there is at least the occasional night you are unchained from your desk for long enough to socialise and the fact that you are able to buy yourself a drink or any other treat you deem necessary.

Before you change your job, consider changing your thinking.